Meet Robin Cunningham, Schizophrenia Expert Patient
Scientist, Businessman, Poet, and Activist, Cunningham Copes with Schizophrenia Daily
Robin Cunningham holds a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from the University of Washington. After graduate studies in psychology at Washington and The University of North Carolina, and working as a Research Assistant in Oceanography and Preventive Medicine, he returned to the University of Washington to obtain an MBA. During his academic career, Robin was awarded four fellowships, including one from The National Institute of Health and another from The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. He was a member of numerous academic and service honoraries, held both elective and appointive offices in student government and served as a Dormitory Resident Assistant Advisor in his senior year.
After receiving his MBA, Robin began a challenging business career. Within three years, he advanced to the level of Vice President and thereafter he served as a senior corporate officer with several international industry-leading corporations, or their subsidiaries, as well as a major Wall Street investment banking firm and a highly profitable commercial bank. He was involved in corporate turnarounds, acquisitions and divestitures, and was instrumental in the formation of four new ventures. He has served as a Managing Director, Director, Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Executive Vice President, as well as the Chief Corporate Officer in Finance, Sales, Marketing, Administration and Strategic Planning.
Robin’s accomplishments are unusual given that from the age of thirteen, he has suffered from schizophrenia, perhaps the most devastating of all mental illnesses. Schizophrenia is a condition that is genetically linked, and is characterized by abnormal brain chemistry and aberrant thinking processes. Robin has experienced the ravages of paranoia, delusions of grandeur, hallucinations, thought insertions, distorted thinking, altered perceptions, anxiety, depression and delusion-based operant behaviors. He has been hospitalized twice.
In 1956, when Robin’s illness first appeared, the prognosis for individuals suffering from schizophrenia was dismal. For years he dealt with the mental and emotional agonies characteristic of his condition. Leading a double life, partly in the real world and partly in a surreal world, he struggled with the debilitating effects of his illness. But with the aid of Dr. Sol Levy, an extraordinary psychiatrist 30 years ahead of his peers, he began a long search for an efficacious medication and learned highly effective coping skills. After ten years and many trials, a medication was found that restored Robin’s functionality. The many coping mechanisms he had learned then became personal growth guidelines, or ‘tools,’ that have contributed greatly to his success. Still, Robin must deal with his schizophrenia on a day to day basis, and remains dependent upon his medication.
Robin’s life experience has provided him with intriguing insights into the human condition. Since his retirement, he has devoted himself to writing, public speaking and to advocacy for the mentally ill. Numerous articles have been written about him. He currently serves on the New Jersey Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma and the NAMI New Jersey Board of Trustees. He has written a body of poetry, and is presently completing a book recreating some of his experiences with schizophrenia. Among others, he has appeared on Voices in the Family (WHYY) and in the upcoming BBC documentary ‘Voices in the Head.’
Robin wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Schizophrenia.